The NHL and the players’ association reached a tentative agreement early yesterday to end a nearly four-month-old lockout that threatened to wipe out what was left of an already abbreviated season.
A marathon negotiating session that lasted more than 16 hours, stretching from Saturday afternoon until just before dawn yesterday, produced a 10-year deal.
“We’ve got to dot a lot of Is and cross a lot of Ts,” NHL commissioner Gary Bettman said. “There’s still a lot of work to be done.”
All schedule issues, including the length of the season and the look of the schedule, still need to be worked out. The NHL has models for 50 and 48-game seasons.
The original estimate was regular-season games could begin about eight days after a deal was reached. It is believed that all games will be played within the two respective conferences, but that also has not been decided.
The collective bargaining agreement must still be ratified by a majority of the league’s 30 owners and the union’s membership of approximately 740 players.
“Hopefully within a very few days the fans can get back to watching people who are skating, not the two of us,” players’ association executive director Donald Fehr said of himself and Bettman.
The players have been locked out since Sept. 16, the day after the previous agreement expired.
“Any process like this is difficult. It can be long,” Fehr said.
Under the negotiated CBA, free-agent contracts will have a maximum length of seven years, but clubs can go to eight years to re-sign their own players. Each side can opt out of the deal after eight years.
The pension plan was “the centerpiece of the deal for the players,” said Winnipeg Jets defenseman Ron Hainsey, who took part in negotiations throughout the process.
The actual language of the pension plan still has to be written, but Hainsey said there is nothing substantial that still needs to be fixed.
“I want to thank Don Fehr,” Bettman said. “We went through a tough period, but it’s good to be at this point.”